The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Herman is deeply affected by the Holocaust. Everywhere he goes in New York City he seeks potential hiding places from imaginary Nazis. When he vanishes at the end of the novel, Tamara speculates that he has found another hayloft. Yet he flees not so much from the Nazis as from himself, his own greatest enemy. As Isaac Bashevis Singer writes in the author’s note to the novel, “the characters are not only Nazi victims but victims of their own personalities and fates.”

Nazis do not compel Herman to become a polygamist. Tamara offers to divorce him, as does Yadwiga. Masha is willing, however reluctantly, to leave him. It is his desire for all three women that deters him from living with only one. Even before World War II, he was a womanizer, and he was first attracted to Masha when he and Yadwiga were still in Germany waiting to sail for America.

Herman is also a victim of his nihilistic philosophy. Representative of modern Jewry, he is “without belief in himself or in the human race, a fatalistic hedonist who lived in presuicidal gloom,” as Singer describes him. He does not mourn his murdered children—whom he did not want in the first place—nor does he intend to become a father again. When Tamara asks what provisions he has made for Yadwiga’s pregnancy, he replies that the neighbors have done everything. Tamara reminds him, “But it’s your child, after all.” He does not respond but thinks, “So what?” Attached to nothing and to no one, he is finally blown into oblivion by the whirlwind of passions.

Masha, too, is a modern Jew who has rejected a God who could permit the Holocaust. Like Herman,...

(The entire section is 673 words.)

Enemies: A Love Story Characters

Similar to many Singer characters, Herman is a victim of society and of himself. He is haunted by hallucinations and nightmares of Nazis...

(The entire section is 242 words.)